There is a place that you are to fill that no one else can fill - something you are to do that no one else can do.

~ Plato (428/427 BC ~

My German Shopping Disaster

April 6th, 2013 ~ Est. reading time: 3 mins, 38 secs

Do you ever feel like you’re being watched when you go shopping?

All right, it wasn’t a shopping disaster as such. More, a kind of awkward consumer moment involving a coat, a crowd of concerned Germans, a security overlord, panicked staff, and an alarm loud enough to get the whole of Wolfsburg out on the street to see whose Volkswagen got stolen.

Ruth and I like travelling. It’s fascinating exploring what’s on the shelves of stores you’ve never heard of in places you’ve never seen. It’s unpredictable. From the air-dried meats lined up overhead, and rather alarming food products, to seeing staff riding by on rollerblades, it’s all good fun.

Except when they call in security. Now, I have learned over a couple of visits to Germany that someone in uniform yelling “Hallo!” loudly isn’t trying to say g’day. It’s really code for, “Stay where you are and do not move! I am going to get you!” That doesn’t happen terribly often when you go shopping in Australia. But in Germany, it’s possible.

Having trawled around in the only department store in Wolfsburg (home to the iconic Volkswagen car), Ruth and I were nodding approvingly at the quality of clothes and toys in the place. For some reason, certain products are done better in one country than another and, in Germany, these two themes are standouts (not to mention chocolates, cakes, and their extensive array of similarly slimming foods).

Anyway, as we kept nodding approvingly on our way out, sirens suddenly activated. Was this some kind of retro blitz drill? If so, it didn’t make for a happy shopping experience. Nor did crowds of onlookers pressing in, or the formerly amiable shop assistants shouting “Hallo!” as they rushed to jump in front of us.

As this was my first German department store sortie, I thought, “Boy, they really make shopping a dramatic experience.” Then I realized this was no drill. Nor were the frowning faces part of some role-play. This was real life shopping the German way. At least, if they believe you’re stealing from the store.

Racking my brains, I wondered what we could have possibly taken and not paid for. Patting down our pockets showed nothing. Whilst, the shopping security overlord who appeared started asking us questions about what we were doing in the store (“Ah, window shopping…”). Yet we all remained clueless about how we could have triggered the wailing disco of deafening sirens, bells, glockenspiels, and blinking blue lights.

Eventually, Herr Overlord said, “Take off your coats and empty your pockets.” We did and proceeded back through the security scanners. Suddenly the “blue-alert-imminent-impact brace-yourself-everybody sirens” died off and the lights blinked out. Again, walking past the sensor once more, Ruth slowly strolled through with no problems at all. Then it was my turn. Immediately, sirens, blue lights and crowd commotion (from the large gathering of spectators who magically appeared) filled the scene. Shopping in Wolfsburg, I suspect, would never be the same again.

Floor staff meanwhile began nodding and no doubt murmured words like, “Yes. It’s him. I knew he was a thief by his bald patch.” But then, a curious thing happened. Putting my coat aside again, I walked past the sensors once more and this time, they stopped. Again, and without my coat, they came back on. With my coat on, the alarms mostly kept blaring. With it off, the din usually stopped. Quite apart from department store shopping being an off and on experience in downtown Wolfsburg, it did make me feel like a renegade celebrity.

Herr Overlord was suspicious. So he grabbed my coat looking for hidden pockets or secret stowaway stitching. “Vhere did you get zis coat?” he asked while I, by now, was doing star jumps and kangaroo hops back and forth in front of the sensors (which the shopping audience found quite entertaining). “Did you buy it here in zer store?”

The coat, which seemed to be triggering the largest land invasion since D-Day, had travelled with me from Australia, so its identifying tags were completely in order. That left the store detective even more puzzled. Meanwhile, I considered the possibility of a life turned to busking as appreciative kids began tossing coins as thanks for my antics (which plainly led the shopping floor staff to throw up their arms in disgust).

What confused me, when I finally put on my serious face, was how my coat activated the sensor system sometimes and not others, while nothing else we possessed did anything. Either way, for unparalleled drama, shopping in Wolfsburg was amazingly entertaining.

But all good things come to an end eventually. Herr Overlord finally consented to giving me back my coat, the crowds dissipated, and mutual sorrys were said, as the headshaking sales staff couldn’t figure why I shouldn’t still be the thief. Having ruined their shopping afternoon for an hour, we could only see the funny side.

Sometimes when you go shopping, the unpredictable happens. In this case, I unwittingly became the department store entertainment. Which means my mother was right after all. “When you go out,” she’d say “always wear a clean shirt, underpants, and properly darned socks, because something might happen” and now I know what.


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